While helping his 10-year-old son, Mason, prepare a school paper about bugs, Terry Iandiorio guided him toward writing clearly and more descriptively. You have a picture in your head of what you’re seeing, he told his son, and you have to make sure that comes through, because you’re writing for someone who might be struggling to grasp that image.
A teacher always, whether he was assisting his children, instructing teenagers in a classroom, or steering young lawyers toward pro bono work at the Ropes & Gray law firm, Mr. Iandiorio spent years bringing into sharp focus an important life lesson: the need to help others. “He always thought he was given a lot with his education, with his abilities, with everything he had to offer,” said his brother Brady.
Though Mr. Iandiorio wasn’t particularly religious, those closest to him say he embodied the passage in the parable of the faithful servant that says much will be asked of those to whom much is given. “His life was inextricably wound like ivy through a trellis around that philosophy,” said his sister, Quenby.
Mr. Iandiorio was 46 when he was caught in a riptide off a Nantucket beach Aug. 16 and drowned. He lived in Acton and before he became a corporate attorney, his life had taken him to disparate parts of the world, including teaching at schools in South Africa and Boston’s suburbs.
“Terry was sometimes absurdly self-effacing. He was so bright, but would never admit that or acknowledge it,” said Rick Melvoin, a longtime friend who is head of school at Belmont Hill School. Melvoin, who hired Mr. Iandiorio 20 years ago, added that “he was an extraordinarily kind man.”
Mr. Iandiorio “had an absolutely brilliant mind. Even people who are extremely smart were in awe of him,” said his father, Joseph Iandiorio, a longtime attorney who lives in Bolton. And yet, he added, his son “was humble to a fault. He would never put himself first. He had a tremendous, thoughtful, kindly approach to everyone.”
From early on Mr. Iandiorio wore his accomplishments so lightly that those closest to him often didn’t know what he had attained. During his senior year at Roxbury Latin School, his family learned that he was president of his class – and had been for three years running. “That was the first time we got an inkling of how painfully modest he was,” said his sister, who lives in Livingston, Mont.
“He just didn’t want to be recognized for things he thought weren’t that important,” she added. “I realize now that what he was showing us all along was that the things that mattered to him were never those prizes or recognition – it’s the way you are daily. He was like a hero of daily life.”
The oldest of four siblings, Terrell J. Iandiorio grew up in Wayland. His mother, the former Virginia McKenna, worked as a computer programmer on projects for the Harvard Cyclotron Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She died a year ago.
Mr. Iandiorio went to the Fenn School in Concord and Roxbury Latin before graduating from Harvard College. After spending some time working and skiing in Breckenridge, Colo., he headed to South Africa to teach at a school outside Johannesburg.
His father recalled that when Mr. Iandiorio was in his early 20s, he wrote a letter to his grandfather explaining that “he wanted to do something good and not just make $100,000 a year and shuffle paper.” His pay for teaching in South Africa covered the cost of getting there and back, and not much more. “He was poor as hell. It didn’t bother him at all. That epitomized him,” his father said. “He has done more good in 46 years than I’ve done in 79. It’s humbling. He was a rare good person.”
Upon returning to the United States, Mr. Iandiorio taught math for about five years at Belmont Hill School, where he had “a lovely lack of pretense,” Melvoin said. “It was always about the students, it wasn’t about him. His ego was not going to get in the way of the work he was doing.”
While there, Mr. Iandiorio met Ann Wade, who also was a math teacher. They married in August 2005, the year he graduated from the University of Chicago Law School. He clerked for a federal judge for a year before joining Ropes & Gray in 2006.
At the firm, he represented clients in the medical device, pharmaceutical, and defense industries, and advised them during government investigations, enforcement proceedings, and civil suits.
“He was a special person,” said Joshua Levy, who cochairs the government enforcement practice group at Ropes & Gray. Mr. Iandiorio “was incredibly diligent and hard-working and super dependable, which is something clients pick up on,” Levy said, adding that colleagues and clients alike valued his “great dry wit.”
Mr. Iandiorio also was the firm’s point person for providing pro bono legal assistance to patients at DotHouse Health, which offers medical care in Dorchester. “He just was so deeply caring and was such an advocate for social justice for our patients and their families,” said Michelle Nadow, the health center’s president and CEO.
“He engaged in pro bono work himself and he also was teaching others how to give back in a profound way,” said Roz Nasdor, director of pro bono legal services at Ropes & Gray. “He was a real role model for the other attorneys working in this program.”
The Boston Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project honored Mr. Iandiorio with its Denis Maguire Pro Bono Award. “The joke at Ropes is that Terry ran a legal services office. With the generosity of his firm and his seemingly endless energy and commitment, Terry impacted more lives than we will be able to recount,” Joanna Allison, the project’s executive director, said in a statement.
“It’s hard to imagine that his calling was really fulfilled at this age,” Mr. Iandiorio’s sister said. “He was just hitting his stride.”
Despite long work hours, pro bono and otherwise, Mr. Iandiorio was even more devoted to his wife, Ann, their son, Mason, and their 7-year-old daughter, Ellery, who was born with Down syndrome. “He loved his family time more than anything,” said his brother Brady, of Centennial, Colo., who added that Terry coached his children’s sports teams and spent hours helping Ellie learn to recognize words and read.
“He was an exceptionally good father. I raised four, but I’m envious of his expertise with his children,” said Mr. Iandiorio’s father. “I was very proud of him for that.”
A service has been held for Mr. Iandiorio, who in addition to his wife, children, father, brother, and sister leaves his brother Caley of Bedford.
“He was amazing in terms of always being around and available to family,” said Caley, who added that when their mother was dying of cancer, “with no interest in being noticed for what he did, he just stepped up. He just took it all on.”
“There was always an abundance of himself that he was giving,” said his sister, Quenby, “and he never made any fanfare about it.”
Bryan Marquard can be reached at email@example.com.